Steve Gibbs has been with the
NHRA for most of his adult life. Few men know more about the
sport of drag racing in general or the workings of a professional
drag race in particular. As Competition Director for NHRA Steve
oversaw every aspect of the on-track functions from safety to
conditions to rules control. Steve perfected the now necessary
"track prep" that has produced record setting times
year in and year out. To list all his accomplishments would require
a book, but suffice it to say he's qualified to speak on any
subject related to drag racing.
Recently a few subjects came
up on the Standard 1320 Group e-mail chat that Steve felt a need
to address. Here's his take on the "traps" (finish
line clocks), track distance, deep staging and "hidden weight".
Good reading and a definite education.
Traps - When we (NHRA) decided to shorten/relocate the
traps, there were a couple of objectives. As it was clearly stated
- in order to get the maximum mph readings using the old configuration,
a driver would have to take the car under full power an additional
66 ft. past the actual quarter mile finish line. The e.t. clocks
stopped at the finish line. Many drivers did not like "driving
it out the back door", as a lot of bad things can happen
in that seemingly short 66 ft. distance. Parts can break, and
on a short track it can be the difference between making the
return road or going off the end.
Just to clarify the trap setups....the
old system utilized a speed trap of 132 ft., positioned 66 ft.
before and 66 ft. after the quarter mile finish line. This in
theory would give you an accurate speed at the finish line. The
new system utilized only the 66 ft. distance before the finish
line, so that both the e.t. and speed clocks would be stopped
when the car crossed the finish line. In theory this setup would
give you the vehicle's speed at 33 ft. before the finish line.
We obviously realized that there would be some mph loss. From
a purist's standpoint, this was a bad deal....but the benefits
We ran a series of tests utilizing
both trap configurations simultaneously, and found that there
was about a 2 mph difference (TF & FC) for those cars going
the full 1386 ft. In reality we saw a great many of the drivers
posting faster speeds (on paper) using the new traps, as they
simply did not like pushing their cars that extra 66 ft., and
were actually starting to decelerate at that point. Gene Snow
was a prime example. He could not care less about big mph clockings,
and always "clicked it" at the finish line. Using the
new traps, Snow's mph readings picked up almost 50 mph!
When we finally decided to institute
the new configuration as a matter of official policy, the fans
actually started seeing a "faster" show, as many drivers
began to post consistently higher speeds. No one even questions
the decision anymore.
Finish Line - It might be good for everyone to understand
a problem that we have in the timing process. When a car leaves
the starting line - the e.t. clocks are activated when the wheels
roll out of the stage beam. In theory you would want the clocks
to stop when those same wheels hit the finish line beam. Unfortunately,
due to low ground clearances, rear tire growth, body contortion,
etc., we simply could not position the finish line lights low
enough to consistently achieve this. Many races were mistakenly
won by cars whose bodies triggered the lights first - even though
the opponents wheels were ahead, but their body cleared the lights.
We reluctantly chose to elevate the lights at the finish line
to at least insure that the same part of each vehicle was triggering
the lights. This compromises the system, but is the best choice
available using current technology.
Deep Staging - This tactic was mentioned, so I'll
give my two cents worth. In the "heads up" pro categories
there are only two possible benefits from staging "deep".
One is to "psych" your competition, and the other is
to get the nose of your vehicle a few inches further down the
track. In a race that is decided by inches, this could be the
difference between winning and losing. Very few races are decided
by margins this close.
When a vehicle rolls out of the
stage beam it stops the reaction timer, and it starts the e.t.
clock. It has clearly been established that by deep staging a
driver will decrease their reaction times...(great for egos)
BUT they will also increase their e.t. by the exact same time
increment. There many benefits from the e.t. readings - qualifying
position, e.t. awards, lane choice, race sequence, etc. There
are no benefits from reaction time readings, in fact it is a
sure fire way to get an un-necessary red light. It took a while
for some to realize this correlation between e.t and reaction
times when deep staging, and it actually caused some friction
within certain teams. The driver would deep stage...cut a great
light (on paper), only to lose a tenth in performance and then
blame the tuner.
Hidden Weight - Boy, have some games been played here
- especially when it was easy to make "minimum weights".
The racers won their share, but we caught quite a few. Years
ago, the cars were weighed without the driver, so we saw the
illegal ballast show up in many places on the car itself. (A
lot can happen on the return road before reaching the scales)
When we started weighing the cars with the drivers, we found
some strange things....firesuits & helmets that topped 100
lbs., FC body poles that were solid steel. If a driver was a
lightweight "unknown", he could simply have a heavier
crew guy jump in the car and pull it across the scales. Them
NHRA tech guys don't know everybody! It was always fun to position
yourself in the shut down / return road area when you were suspicious
of a problem. Boy would those guys squirm when they couldn't
stash the weight needed before getting to the scales. While the
TF/FC guys were good, the sportsman "doorslammer" guys
were by far the best a playing these kind of games....probably
Director, NHRA Motorsports Museum